ThingsIlearned

What I’ve Kinda, Sorta Learned: Marc Beaulac, Creator of Reddit’s ‘Am I The Asshole?’

‘To tell an intricate problem to a stranger, who absolutely does not care about you to begin with, is a surprisingly valuable thing’

Marc Beaulac is a 42-year-old photographer and dog rescuer in Rhode Island. Six years ago, he needed to know if he was in the right after getting into an argument over the thermostat at his workplace. And so, he created a subreddit to get the opinion from strangers who could assess his situation free from bias. He called it “Am I The Asshole?,” and he quickly discovered he wasn’t the only one searching for the opinions of strangers. The subreddit is now the fifth most-active subreddit on the platform, boasting nearly 1.4 million subscribers, all of whom are judging each other’s moral quandaries. After presiding over thousands posts, countless arguments and more displays of assholery than any one person should ever have to experience, he’s learned a lot about the human capacity for change, even more about the lack of same and a few more things, too.

For a little more than five years, I had a nice, sleepy subreddit occupied by people who just loved to talk about moral philosophy in a very judgmental, non-educated way. Then, somewhere around last Thanksgiving, it got to a tipping point of 200K people. Ever since, I’ve had people calling me absolutely every slur in the world because they think I’m censoring them when I take away their comment attacking someone they don’t know, about stuff they don’t understand. 

Here’s the thing, though, we don’t want anyone to be overwhelmed by 6,000 strangers thinking of very colorful ways to insult them. 

Especially if it’s a woman posting, three-quarters of commenters will just want to call her a “cunt.” The other quarter are satisfied with “bitch.” So we had to make the assumption that those two words have to be out right away, along with a number of other slurs we eventually added. At the very top of our rules we’ve outlined common examples, which include “cunt,” “retard,” “slut,” “thot,” “fatty,” “feminazi,” “whore,” “cuck” or “incel” (unless used in a strictly literal sense). 

This is not an exhaustive list. 

It’s constantly shocking how incapable some people are of accepting that there’s another viewpoint. You don’t have to admit they’re right, you don’t even have to admit they’re sane. But merely rhetorically grappling with it, it seems like people are incredibly incapable of that. 

Basically, a lot of people don’t understand that their opinion isn’t the only possible opinion. 

That’s probably because everything on the internet is built around reinforcing your own opinion. Whatever you already think, clicked on or somehow told the monsters at Google that you like, everything is tailored to you through some algorithm. 

Most people interacting online, especially on Reddit, have no interest in hypothetical situations. They’re very invested in people telling the truth, and getting to the bottom of somebody’s actual pain in order to help them — or hurt them if that’s their slant. 

Regarding the latter, I’ll never forget this one poor guy who asked about bringing a 5-foot-long sub that was meant to share to a party. He paid for it himself and no one necessarily asked him to bring it, but he ended up eating the whole thing himself because it was so good and no one else stopped him. The commenters just wanted to destroy his life in any way possible.

Admittedly, it is hard to post on our subreddit. I’ve done a bunch of pseudonyms and throwaways just to see what the experience is like. And god, even when there’s only 20 people commenting, if they all agree you suck, it’s very difficult to go back there and listen to what they have to say. I mean, I wrote the rule about not arguing back but ended up doing it anyway.

A lot of people do change though, and that’s why we invite them to come back to update us about how they accepted the judgment and changed how they behave. And they typically come out positive, which could absolutely turn your opinions about humanity a bit higher.

The reason I started the sub is because I’d much rather let someone else get their way than have conflict. I never argue about something for fear of being an asshole, so I figured it’d be good to run these situations by internet strangers.

I can thank the sub for making me a little more open in that way. But it wouldn’t exist if I didn’t have that particular disease. 

To tell an intricate problem to a stranger, who absolutely does not care about you to begin with, is a surprisingly valuable thing. 

You can’t really ask your friends who are involved in whatever the fight is because they’ll have a relationship with it and a vested interest. So you can’t be sure if you’re getting an unwashed objective read on things. 

When you’re a moderator, you have to ban people a lot. And nine out of ten of them will immediately accuse you of censoring whatever they’re espousing, even though you don’t care what they have to say, you just don’t want them attacking people. One guy went to the trouble of doxxing me and writing fictional posts from the perspective of my deceased dog about how he’s glad he’s dead so he doesn’t have to live with me anymore. 

But, the 10th will apologize. They’ll go, ”Yeah, sorry, I just re-read what I said, and even though it was 10 minutes ago, that doesn’t appear to have come from my own brain.”

When someone actually apologizes in any way, it just totally blows my airbag. Like whatever they want, they can have, because they’re one of the special ones.